Federal contractor arrested for leaking NSA document showing evidence of Russian hacks

UPDATE 3 — 7/11, 4:33 p.m. EDT: First Look Media, the parent company of online news outlet The Intercept, announced Tuesday it was providing financial support for the legal defense of Reality Winner, a former NSA contractor charged under the Espionage Act for leaking a classified government report about Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Winner was the then-unnamed source that provided the NSA document on which a June 5 article published by the journalistic group was based, detailing Russian military intelligence efforts to hack into U.S. state election systems.

A written statement published by The Intercept’s chief editor, Betsy Reed, admitted that their “reporting practices came under immediate scrutiny after the publication of our story as the Trump administration’s DOJ suggested in an unsealed affidavit and search warrant that it had gleaned clues about the leaker’s identity in part from our reporting.”

According to official court documents, the news outlet ultimately handed over the leaked NSA report to federal investigators, “folded and/or creased, suggesting they had been printed and hand-carried out of a secured space.”

 

UPDATE 2 — 6/8, 8:44 a.m. EDT: Edward Snowden responded Tuesday to NSA contractor Reality Winner’s arrest on his Freedom of the Press Foundation website.

“The prosecution of any journalistic source without due consideration by the jury as to the harm or benefit of the journalistic activity is a fundamental threat to the free press,” he wrote.

“No matter one’s opinions on the propriety of the charges against her, we should all agree Winner should be released on bail pending trial. Even if you take all the government allegations as true, it’s clear she is neither a threat to public safety nor a flight risk. To hold a citizen incommunicado and indefinitely while awaiting trial for the alleged crime of serving as a journalistic source should outrage us all.”

 

UPDATE — 2:56 p.m. EDT: In an interview with USA Today Tuesday, Senate intelligence committee vice chairman Mark Warner said Russian attempts to hack into U.S. state election systems in 2016 were more substantial than have been reported.

“The extent of the attacks is much broader than has been reported so far,” he said, indicating that some states were not aware of infiltration attempts at the time they were carried out by the Kremlin’s foreign intelligence agency, GRU.

 “I really want to press the case,” Warner continued. “This is a case to make sure that the American public writ large realizes that if we don’t get ahead of this, this same kind of intervention could take place in 2018 and definitely will take place in 2020.”

 

The Justice Department announced Monday U.S. authorities have arrested a federal contractor in Augusta, Georgia, for the removal of classified material from the facility of which she worked and delivering it to a media outlet.

The FBI arrested Reality Leigh Winner, 25, at her home Saturday and charged her with gathering and transmitting federal information.  According to the indictment, Winner “printed and improperly removed classified intelligence reporting,” and later “unlawfully transmitted by mail the intelligence reporting to an online news outlet.”

“Exceptional law enforcement efforts allowed us quickly to identify and arrest the defendant.  Releasing classified material without authorization threatens our nation’s security and undermines public faith in government. People who are trusted with classified information and pledge to protect it must be held accountable when they violate that obligation,” said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

Authorities say Winner admitted to taking a National Security Agency document detailing alleged efforts carried out by the Russian Federation’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) to hack into the U.S. presidential election in 2016.

With origins just prior to the November election, the official paper’s particulars indicate the GRU allegedly targeted a ballot software firm, which victimized up to seven employees according to the document in question, and engaged in an attempted spear-phishing campaign targeting over 100 election officials.  It is unknown which states the alleged hacking attempts took place.

Assigned to a government agency located in Augusta, Winner has been employed with government contracting firm Pluribus International Corporation since February 2017.  Winner had top-secret clearance while employed at the facility.

Winner’s arrest Saturday comes at the same time an online investigative website, The Intercept, published a NSA document outlining a evidence of a hacking attempt by Russia’s GRU, but the Justice Department did not confirm if Winner’s arrest was related to the story or whether Winner was the source of the information.

 

[UPI] [The Intercept] [AJC.com] [Photo courtesy AP/Instagram via BuzzFeed]